Away Camp

Does your child go to away camp?

When I was a kid I went to away camp. I absolutely hated it. I was super home sick (made worse by a friend I went with who was more home sick than I) and never adjusted or got comfortable with my new environment. I’m sure there was upside to me — learning to survive in new situations, etc., but at the time it was painful. I was so excited when I got to go home.

Fast forward to the present, based on my experience, we never pushed away camp on our kids, though we knew there would be benefit if they decided to go. Our youngest surprised us a few years back (pre-COVID) when he agreed to go. I was a little concerned (was he ready for it?), but we decided to let him go. Low and behold, the outfit ended up canceling the camp a few weeks in advance. All their other camps were full, but this particular one hadn’t gotten enough campers. My son was a little disappointed, I was a bit relieved. 😊

This year, our youngest had an opportunity to visit a friend who had traveled to another state where they have a family cabin. My son knows his friend well and he was very excited at the prospect of going away, so we agreed to let him.

At the airport, he was a mix of nerves and excitement. I encouraged him to treat the coming trip as an adventure. “This is part of growing up. This experience will help give you confidence when you are older and go out on your own.” A discussion I might have benefited from had my parents had it with me before I went to camp (or did they and I forgot? 😊). He agreed. He gave me a big hug and got on the plane. He was aided by the airline to get to his final destination but did great. FaceTime kept us connected while he was away. Makes me so proud to see him able to do this, and know being away is helping build his confidence and his independence.

Away camp is just one way kids have new adventures and are forced to grow (regardless if they love it, hate it, or are somewhere in between). How are you helping your child build their confidence and/or independence?

Summer Camp Inspiration

What is keeping your child busy this summer?

Summer camps can be a godsend for parents when school is out — with the exception of the carpooling, odd hours, and cost, right?

My oldest decided he wanted to go to a specialty sports camp. It was a single day and very intensive. He was excited to go as the camp was touted as preparing the participants to become college athletes some day. I expected to hear all about how awesome the camp was when my son got home, but he was more in a daze (he got sunburned and had been outside for ten hours, but still).

“How’d it go?,” I asked. “Okay,” my son said. He was quiet. I had expected him to add more without prompting, but to no avail, so I continued, “was it all you were hoping for?” “Not exactly,” he said. He drew out the word not. “How so?” I asked. “We’ll, they had us run drills and this one coach kept yelling at me. I thought they were going to teach me, but I don’t feel like I learned anything new.” I asked him a few more questions then gave it a rest. He was clearly disappointed with the experience and exhausted.

About a week after this my son asked me to go for a walk. That rarely happens, so I jumped at the chance to get outside and have one-on-one time with him. As we walked he talked about his plans for the summer and things he wanted to do. As we walked the conversation went back to the camp he had attended. “I just can’t get it out of my mind what that coach said,” he started, “what he was asking me to do made sense but it was my first time doing it, so unsure why he kept singling me out and yelling at me.” We talked for a while about how the coach gave his critiques. Based on how my son described it the coach ‘motivated’ by shaming. I had to stop my son and make sure he understood something very clearly. “There are different ‘leaders’ that will come in and out of your life and will come in the form of teacher, your boss, and even coach. Leadership styles vary, but the best leaders know how to get the best out of you without having to break you down. When a leader feels this is the only way they can motivate you, it says more about them, than it says about you.” I corrected myself, “It says everything about them and nothing about you.” I explained further, “When you use shame or intimidation to motivate, it will work but there can be collateral damage, I.e., devastating consequences. You don’t want someone to be the best athlete or musician or dancer or worker or (fill in the blank), but be stressed all the time, hate themselves, and/or suffer mentally. You want to be led by someone who inspires you, understands how to get you to push beyond your comfort zone, and get the best out of you. When that happens you thrive vs. survive.” I took a breathe with the hopes that what I was saying was sinking in. “If the coach taught you a new approach and you think it’s a good one, then work on getting comfortable with it, and better at it, but do not waste one second allowing how he delivered his assessment to you sink it. Just let it fall on the ground where it belongs. He doesn’t know you or your capabilities. My guess is he would single out anyone he thought might make him look bad. Pitiful.” I rested my case.

My son was still taking in what I said. He shared other comments the coach had made that were directed at the larger group that confirmed my suspicion that this coach wasn’t someone I wanted my son around, and was grateful it had only been for the one day.

We’ve all had experiences in our lives where a leader didn’t necessarily show good character. It’s disappointing when you experience it, and angering when you see (of hear after the fact) your child did. I’m just glad my son shared. I hope he’ll take this lessen on leadership and look for leadership that will help him grow in a positive and healthy way — leaders who inspire him, push him to be his best, while appreciating him for who he is as he is.

What is your child doing this summer? Who are the leaders inspiring your child?

I will be off next week enjoying the long weekend with family and friends, and will return in July.

Can We Talk About It?

When your child asks you for something (they need, want, etc.) what do you do?

When my boys need something (school supplies, clothes) it’s pretty easy. For non-essentials, I typically weigh the pros and cons, we discuss as a family if pricey (can we afford, is this a good use of our money—often turns into financial discussions/teaching moments with kids, etc.), and then we decide.

My oldest found a sports camp he wants to go to. It’s a single-day camp and pricey (not crazy pricey, but enough to make you at least weigh the pros and the cons). I knew how much he wants to go to the camp. My husband and I discussed the cost and agreed we’d let him go. By the time my husband and I connected on this we were full into our workdays and my son school, so I decided to text him to share the good news , he could go to camp but with some conditions. “Your father and I discussed and you can go to the camp. In return I’ll take a daily hug, you need to make sure all the dishes are done before you go to bed, and lessen the sass towards mom.” I said all of this ending with a smiley face 😊 to let my son know I was serious, but also that it was coming from a place of love.

I expected his response to be “great” or “thanks,” instead he responded with the following in rapid fire: are you sure? I can pay for it? Can we talk about this before you sign me up? Was my son ‘adulting’ on me? I texted him back, “We can cover — is hugging me really that bad? 😊 We’ll discuss tonight before we register you.” He responded “Thanks.” It seemed like he was being very pragmatic and he got me thinking. Does he not want to go? Is there something about the camp that worries him? What’s prompting this desire to part with money? My son rarely spends money, he’s always saving it which made me think am I missing an opportunity for my son to feel good about spending his hard earn money in a way that feels good to him?

That night we talked about it. My husband and I explained that we would cover the cost for this camp, but other specialty camps he might want to do over the summer he could cover. My son was excited, and we felt like we’d found a happy medium. Reflecting on the situation I realize my son is getting closer to adulthood daily and I need to start leaning into that more (vs holding onto the vision of him being young and more dependent). It may be uncomfortable for me, but the more I practice it the easier it will become.

How are you helping your child make money choices? How are you helping them prepare to be independent?

Tween Vacation

How does child effect your household?

My oldest son went on a week-long trip, leaving my younger son home with my husband and I. My oldest is a bit of a force in our house. He’s passionate about his interests, thoughts and ideas. He challenges others when he is in disagreement. He is curious, thoughtful, empathetic and self-aware (more so than I was at his age). He loves testing the waters with his father and I in what he can get away with (say, do, watch…you get the idea). He loves messing with his younger brother. He is a typical tween, nearing full-on teenager status.

My youngest is mild-mannered and fun-loving for the most part. He is passionate about his interests, thoughts and ideas and when needed, he will defend himself and stand up to his brother. He doesn’t proactively start a fight. He doesn’t like ‘drama.’ He is my Zen kid.

With my oldest being away, it has created a bit of a void in the house. You could say it is calmer and somewhat less chaotic (I haven’t had to yell at anyone about keeping their hands to themselves this week once — amazing!), but there is an energy that is missing. A crazy, hard-to-explain, even-though-it-makes-me-want-to-pull-my-hair-out-I-still-miss-it feeling created in his absence.

I think about how different my kids are. How much individually and together they bring to our family. How, when one of them is away, it changes who we are as a family in a significant way. My son is missed, in all his tween glory, and we can’t wait to have him back with us.

How does your family change when your child is away?

 

Letting them Go

Have you ever struggled to let your child do something on their own?

My youngest son had his first overnight trip without family. His fourth grade class took an overnight trip to a school in the woods (a nature school). His older brother went when he was in the fourth grade and loved it so much he didn’t want to come back. We were excited for our younger son, but knew he was a little apprehensive, which in turn made me a little apprehensive. My fears: will he have fun? Is he going to be and feel included? Is he going to be okay? My son’s fears (though not confirmed by him) are likely more around no screen time (no TV, no YouTube, no Internet — oh my!).

The morning of his trip he teared up at the breakfast table. “I’m going to miss you so much,” he said. “I know, and we’ll miss you too,” I responded, “but this is good practice for growing up.” He gave me an eye-roll suggesting my response wasn’t what he hoped for (think he was looking for a “we don’t want you to go either…please stay!”). I hugged him and tried to reassure him. “You’re going with people who care about you. Most kids say this trip is the highlight of their elementary school, and now you get to go on it! Most kids (including your brother) would do anything to go back to this camp.” That seemed to help. He wiped his eyes and got ready to go.

It’s hard to let your kids grow up, do things on their own, and help them to be independent. It’s easy to think that if they are independent they don’t need you. But I want my boys to be independent, and to have confidence they have the skills to navigate this life. I want my boys, as they grow into adults, to want to talk and engage with my husband and I because they choose to, not because they have to. It’s still hard to experience the transition as they go from childhood into early adulthood. It’s hard letting them g(r)o(w).

How are you helping your child be independent?

I will be away for the next few weeks and back in July.

 

Fireside Chat

Where do you have your best conversations with your child?

On a camping trip my husband and my older son decided they wanted to hike a trail not far from our camping site. We had just finished a different hike and my younger son and I were happy to sit by the fire and relax. After sitting by the fire for a few minutes, I could see my son was thinking about something. “What are you thinking about?” I asked. I thought he might reply, “nothing” or that he was reflecting on the day. Instead he said, “I’m thinking about life.” He paused, “And what the point of it is.”

Our earlier hike had taken us to a military cemetery where service and family members were buried. There was a large section of infants and young children in the cemetery and I had wondered, as we’d looked at some of the headstones, how the kids might be impacted by seeing so many lives lost so young. The experience reminded my son of two of his peers who have passed. A classmate from pre-school who died of cancer, and an elementary classmate who died from drowning. As a parent, both of these children’s deaths had shaken me to my core and reminded me how fragile life is. In both cases, I grieved desperately for the parents and what they must be going through, and was so grateful my boys were healthy and alive. I never knew if my son really grasped the finality of either death and the feelings that go along with it.

My son continued, “I think of my friends. They didn’t do anything wrong. I don’t understand why what happened to them had to happen to them.” He was tearing up. “They didn’t do anything wrong,” I said. “It’s one of the hardest things to understand in life — why bad things happen. Especially when it’s to good people or small children who haven’t had a chance to even truly experience life.” I paused. “You’ll never be able to make sense when these things happen. Life’s just that way. Sometimes bad things happen. I think their deaths are reminders of the gift we’ve been given — life. It’s a reminder to not take it for granted. To recognize the beauty around us, and to help others see it too.” I’d gotten his attention. “I miss them,” he said. “I know,” I said, “You’ll never forget them. They’ll always be with you. The hardest part is knowing they’re not here and that you won’t have new memories with them. But you can live for them and the lives they didn’t get to live. You just have to see what’s around you and appreciate it for however long you have on this Earth.” I knew what I was saying was a bit heavy, but he seemed to take it in and embrace it. Being in a nature setting while having this discussion really helped. I finished my thought with my son, “You know you show beauty often to others in how you treat them. You’re gift is kindness and happiness. You accept people as they are, where they are. That’s a gift. I hope you always remember that. Lots of people need people like you in their life. You might be the beauty in life they need to see.” He smiled. I used to smile too, when my father gave me insights about myself. There was something magical about being able to carry on the tradition with my son. “Life is hard sometimes. Life can be confusing and sometimes make you sad or angry, but the happiness will return. Just keep remembering to appreciate it, and treat it for what it is — a gift.”

My husband and older son walked into the campsite around this time. My younger son and I just sat there. “What have you been up to?” my husband asked. My younger son piped in, “We’ve been having a very important conversation. VERY IMPORTANT!” He gave me a knowing look. My husband caught my eye and I could almost read his mind — what exactly did you all talk about while we were away? In a way, I wish my husband had been there for the conversation, and my older son — it would have been a good conversation for us to have as a family — but if they had been there, maybe the conversation wouldn’t have happened, and I’m glad that it did.

Where do have your most meaningful conversations with your child?

 

The Magic of Nature

How do you experience nature?

My son went with his school on an overnight trip to a school in the woods. The trip had the students staying in lodges and exploring nature, bugs and animals in their natural habitat. My son was mainly nervous about being in a new place without any family members around, but we encouraged him to try to enjoy himself.

It was the first time my husband and I had not had any contact with our son. There was no computers or cellphones for the kids. I was glad the kids were completely unplugged, but as a parent, it was difficult not to know how our son was doing — was he enjoying himself, was he adjusting okay?

He left on a Monday and got back on a Thursday afternoon. We were so glad to see him, and he was glad to be back, but he already missed the camp. His teacher sent us a note warning us to this prior to picking him up. “Your son had a great time on our trip, and shared how sad he was that he was back. He really enjoyed himself there.” When our son got home we asked him to tell us about his trip. “It was great, let me read you from the journal I kept.” I was dumbfounded. I’ve never seen my son so interested in something he was willing to journal about it. I thought, this place must have been something really special. After going through his journal, which consisted of all the magic that this place held — nature trails, a tree house you could climb, water where bugs and fish lived and much more — he told us, “We’re going to visitors day,” and promptly walked to the calendar and wrote it down. It was set in stone, we were going.

Nature can be therapeutic and healing. It can feel connecting and peaceful. It’s wonders can feel magical, and amazing…sometimes hard to believe certain places or things exist. My son’s trip was a good reminder that I could benefit from connecting with nature more. Making time to talk walks, and a hike now and then, can work wonders on my soul. It certainly did so for my son.

How have you experienced the magic of nature? How has your child?

Talk to Me (or someone you trust)

Have you ever wondered what your child was thinking or feeling, and gotten frustrated when they weren’t able (or willing) to talk to you about it?

My oldest son is getting to the age where he is starting to hold back on what he shares with my husband and I. He is willing to ask questions and come to us when something is really on his mind, but struggles to talk to us (or his caregivers or teachers, etc.) when he is frustrated or upset. In these instances, his go-to strategy has been to express his frustration with a grunt and closed fists, or to simply walk away. While I appreciate him being aware enough that he knows he needs to calm himself done before responding, I yearn for him to talk to me (or my husband, or his caregiver, teacher, etc.) to tell us what is going on and why he is getting so frustrated, angry or upset. When he doesn’t or isn’t willing, I feel helpless to help him. It’s feels awful.

We enrolled our son in a camp that was recommended to us to help with these types of struggles. When I picked him up following a day of camp his counselor came over and shared that he refused to participate and talk to them during the day. We discussed how we could get him to open up. The camp, which is outdoors-focused, runs a MineCraft project for their participants. They set-up a project the kids can work on, and help them with their social interactions. My son heard about this and wanted to join. We saw an opportunity to help him get what he wanted (to ‘play’ MineCraft) while helping him open up and better express himself when frustrated or upset. “I’ll make you a deal. You tell your counselor what is bothering you tomorrow, and we’ll consider letting you play MineCraft,” I offered. “Okay,” my son quickly replied. The following day, he eagerly greeted me and said, “Mom, I told the counselor what was bothering me today!” He was excited about it (I’m sure his excitement was around the possibility of him playing MineCraft increasing, but I’ll take it).  I told him that I was glad to hear it, and I’d talk to the camp counselor about how to get him set-up to play with the other participants. My husband and I are not necessarily video game fans, but thought this was about as good as we could hope for as an introduction to the gaming world. As my son and I were leaving I reiterated why it was so important he not keep his thoughts and feelings to himself all the time. “We can’t help you if you don’t talk to us. We don’t know what you’re feeling or thinking. We can’t read your mind. But we can help you when you are willing to tell us. Make sense?” “Okay, Mom. I’ve got it.” We’ll see if this works, but it feels like we’re heading on the right path. I’m feeling a little less helpless.

How have you gotten your child to talk to you when they were reluctant to do so?